Thursday, January 21, 2010

big bird

The departure was getting out of hand, especially for Pan Am. The airline which was the model of efficiency and professionalism was struggling with a late departure on Flight 2 to Heathrow. The flight, which had been sold out for months, actually did push back at one point only to return to the World Port when an engine overheated on the runway. They made the decision to change equipment which caused even more delay. They would have canceled the flight completely except that the entire world was watching. Pan Am Flight 2 was the first scheduled passenger flight of the jumbo jet era, the entry into service of the Boeing 747-121.

N736PA Clipper Victor at Heathrow, 1970

The plane was created for Pan Am. CEO Juan T. Trippe had told Boeing management in 1966 that if they would build a bigger jet, he would commit to buy 25 of them on the spot. Boeing, sounding like a line from "Field of Aircraft Dreams" told him that if he would buy them, they would build them, and so the deal was struck in April 1966- 25 airplanes for a staggering $525 million dollars.

It was a huge undertaking for Boeing, as they had to design a totally new airplane and construct a new facility to build it in all at the same time. They had gambled their entire future once before, and the 707 that resulted catapulted them past Douglas to preeminence as an airplane manufacturer. Now they were rolling the dice again.

N747001 City of Everett in Seattle, 1968

Less than three years later, a very big plane sat on the runway at Boeing field waiting for takeoff. It was the City of Everett, tail number N747001, MSN 20235, and line number 1- the very first 747-100 prototype. It flew on March 9 1969 and despite a small problem with flaps, soon paved the way for production to begin. Airplane production ramped up quickly, more quickly than Pratt and Whitney could ready the massive plane's new JT-9D engines, which were suffering from teething pains. At one point, almost 20 new 747-100's sat around Everett waiting for their engines. Airworthiness was issued in December, 1969, and preparations began for passenger flight.

Three brand new 747-121's await engines in the summer of 1969. They are Clipper Victor (N736PA), Clipper Young America (N735PA) and Clipper Defender (N738PA)

First Lady Pat Nixon christened the first Pan Am 747 on January 15, 1970 at Dulles International Airport. The actual aircraft she honored was Clipper Victor (N736PA, msn 19643, line # 11). This was not the plane chosen for the first passenger flight. They selected Clipper Young America (N735PA, msn 19642, line #10), but when the engine overheated, they made a last minute substitution.

Clipper Victor
, N736PA, the actual plane that the First Lady had christened, was hastily fueled and readied for flight. Among the last minute preparations was a hasty re-naming so that the "Clipper Young America" would be the first 747 in service. They had already announced the name of the plane that would be making the historic flight and didn't want to answer any unpleasant questions about engine problems. Only the keenest observer would notice a one-digit variation in the tail number.

Finally at 1:52 AM, N736PA pushed back from the World Port and ushered in the era of the Jumbo Jet, bound for Heathrow and infamy. After an uneventful flight, Pan Am Two Heavy touched down at 14:14 GMT. Ultimately, the 747 was kinder to Boeing than it was to Pan Am. The recession and fuel price spikes of the early 70's put Pan Am in a very tight spot economically, with high debt and only partially filled planes, and set then in a precarious place leaving airline deregulation to deliver the knock out punch. Sadly, the first 747 to fly, the N736PA Clipper Victor, was itself lost at Tenerife in a tragic accident for which it was not to blame.

But the majestic 747 has flown on. Two generations have grown since then. An astonishingly high percentage of the traveling public have no firsthand knowledge of life before the 747. It has evolved through several versions and has sold 1,418 copies. The most recent version, the 747-400, has been produced for over twenty years, concluding production in December 2009 with just over seven hundred made. And very first of the newest version, RA501 N747EX, the 747-8, is being gauntlet tested today as I write in prepation for first flight next month. It is longer, the iconic fuselage will be stretched in two places, and fitted with totally new wings and new General Electric GENx engines.

The first 747-8, RA501 N747EX msn 35808 being prepared for gauntlet testing

I hope she flies forever. Happy anniversary, big bird. You've still got it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the new senator Elect from Massachusetts, Scott Brown:

While I'm certainly not steering the blog back into politics, as there are many very good political writers out there, I nonetheless do want to share my observation that this election is groundbreaking in a unique way. For decades, prostitutes, whores, sex workers, and indeed just good old fashioned garden variety sluts felt excluded by the political system. Yes, they could meet a Senator in an airport bathroom, and occasionally affix a diaper to one, but couldn't envision themselves holding the office themselves.

Well, thanks to the GOP that artificial prophylactic barrier, the so-called tramp ceiling, has been shattered. Indeed, our newest leader was only a staple away from the Full Brownie, with hardly an eyebrow raised. As long as he supports the Corporotracy and oppresses the right minorities, it's all good. So elect prostitutes- they're probably more honest than what we have now!

Oh, and a song dedicated to Senator Elect Brown. Heck of a centerfold, Brownie:

Saturday, January 9, 2010


His name never really fit him. His mother intended to call him William and then at the last minute elected to name him after his father instead. The name has never really fit him, so it is no surprise that I had to rename him. To me he is and always will be the inimitable Trixie.

Trix is my best friend, closest confidante, partner in crime and Vera to my Mame. He may be the eye of the drama hurricane, as crazed roommates and unsuitable suitors swirl around him in a haze, but he is of my tribe. We look out for each other.

So here's a salute to Trixie on the 50-watt anniversary of his birth. I love you lots.

And you'll always be older than me.

Friday, January 8, 2010

sunset over seattle

Couldn't resist sharing this photo of the very first Dreamliner 787 (ZA001, N787BA, msn 40690) at sunset over Seattle on test flight number 9. Majestic. This says everything about what flight is supposed to be. (Photo credit: Boeing)

Thursday, January 7, 2010



Go!- ZA001 takes to the skies

I'm way late in mentioning it, for several reasons. First, December is a somber month for air travel because of some significant crash anniversaries, and second I simply wasn't certain just how much of an air geek I'm willing to confess to, but the news is out.

The first Boeing 787 Dreamliner, ZA001 (N787BA) completed her gauntlet and runway tests in mod December and was ready for flight test. On the morning of December 15, the plastic fantastic pushed back from the gate and headed for the runway. Boeing 1 was given takeoff clearance slightly behind plan, at 10:27 AM. Test pilot Mike Carriker and co-pilot Randy Neville taxied past thousands of onlookers. Capt. Neville pushed the thrust levers forward and raced down the runway. ZA001 lifted off gracefully and flew into aviation history. Two years late, and amid much skepticism, the Dreamliner flies like the Boeing she was made to be. The carbon fiber jet is here, and air travel will never be the same.

Geek that I was, I was watching the live feed from Boeing and reading comments on Twitter at the same time. I admit to tearing up when the bird flew over the live camera. "See ya later", it seemed to say. "I gotta fly." Here's first flight footage from KOMO in Seattle:

And after three hours, in deteriorating weather conditions, Captain Carriker brings ZA001 for a picture perfect landing in heavy rain: (official Boeing feed includes tower communication)

Just over a week later on December 22,the second Dreamliner, ZA002, wearing the ANA launch colors in tribute, also took to the skies. Except for a nose gear door alignment, the flight was flawless as well. Now that the new year is here, the two are flying pretty much daily and will be joined by the third flight test plane shortly. Dreamliner is here.

ZA002 above the Olympic Mountains

As much angst as they cause us, you have to love Boeing for betting the bank on their product. They did it with the 707, and launched the modern jet age. They did it with the 747, and changed the face of travel. And now the Dreamliner arcs her graceful wings and takes to the sky. Welcome, Dreamliner. We've been waiting for you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

sunday drive: palm springs new year

A New Year and time for an old friend to return- the Sunday Drive Photo Series. Photos today were taken on New Year's Day, on foot, in the deepwell section of South Palm Springs where many small hotels are interspersed with residential housing. There's also a generous representation of liquor stores- for the tourists? For the residents? Uncertain. Interesting.

Through the blur of alcohol, you'll notice a great selection of backlit plastic signage. What you won't see is neon- neon was outlawed in Palm Springs in the 50's- city fathers found it unsavory. So sit back and revel in highbrow backlit plastic, architectural details and a couple of extra elements I couldn't resist. Happy New Year from Palm Springs. Enjoy!

More photos here